Private Speech and Other Forms of Self-Communication

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A popular idea in fictional literature and psychological theory is that self-communication can be verbal or nonverbal. A literary example is Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. In the first volume, Swann's Way, Swann's mother gives him a spoonful of tea with crumbs of madeleine in it and this taste stimulus evokes a strong sense of joy, but the stimulus does not lead to any understanding of why joy was the specific emotion aroused. Swann eventually remembers by first shutting out all other sensations and thoughts and, later, taking a break from this concentration; but the remembering takes up three pages of narrative (Proust, 1928, pp. 62–65). The initial self-communication involved a sensory stimulus and an emotional response, and the final self-communication resulted from the processes that psychologists call incubation and insight, but these processes were enabled by the verbal self-instruction to focus attention on remembering the connection between the sensation and the emotion and to shut down this focusing of attention when it was initially unsuccessful. The connection, by the way, was that a favorite aunt gave him a bit of madeleine dipped in tea on Sunday mornings when he was a child.

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